There is no more authoritative newspaper in the country, perhaps the world, than the New York Times. But when the Times gets it wrong, it is often a real doozy. In the 1930s, the Times’ man in Moscow, Walter Duranty, completely missed the Kremlin’s forced famine in the Ukraine that led to the death of six to seven million Ukrainians and Russians. Joseph Stalin’s KGB found Duranty to be a “useful idiot” in accepting Moscow’s denial of widespread famine and mass starvation. Incredibly, Duranty won a Pulitzer for his articles from the Soviet Union.
Throughout the Cold War, the Times’ man at the Pentagon, Drew Middleton, accepted the threat assessments of the U.S. military, and thereby helped several administrations make their case for increased military spending. In the early 1980s, a Times’ stringer, Clair Sterling, repeated the disinformation of the Reagan administration, including the Central Intelligence Agency, and charged the Soviet Union with responsibility for the assassination attempt against the Polish Pope, John Paul II. More recently, Times’ reporters, particularly Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, bought the phony line of the U.S. intelligence community regarding so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, thereby helping the Bush administration make the case for war.
In today’s world, the New York Times is helping the Trump administration’s “war cabinet” make the case for an increased security threat from both Russia and China. The efforts of Moscow and Beijing to be a stakeholder in such problem areas as the proliferation of weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea as well as the systemic domestic problems in both countries is ignored or downplayed. Their respective policies toward Syria and the South China Sea are typically exaggerated.
Now the Times appears to have decided to rehabilitate CIA director Gina Haspel. Haspel drew more negative votes in her Senate confirmation hearing than any previous director in the 72-year history of the CIA—and for good reason. Haspel was actively involved in the CIA’s torture and abuse program conducted in secret prisons in East Europe and Southeast Asia.
Last week’s article in the Times, written by Julian Barnes and Adam Goldman, failed to mention that Haspel was the author of the cable that ordered the destruction of the 92 tapes of interrogation and that it was disingenuous of her to explain that she was simply trying to “protect CIA officers.” Like most operatives who administer torture and abuse, the CIA officers were hooded and in no need of protection. In drafting the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes, Haspel ignored the views of then CIA director Porter Goss, the director of national intelligence James Clapper, and two White House counsels who were opposed to the destruction.
Instead, Haspel followed the instructions of her boss, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center. If the torture program had a godfather, it was Rodriguez; Haspel was a devoted acolyte. The Department of Justice investigated the entire episode, but no one was charged with obstruction of justice even though the White House and a federal judge had ordered that the tapes be protected. A CIA disciplinary review ignored the Nuremberg principles and “found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel” because she drafted the cable “on the direct orders” of her superior.
Barnes and Goldman were terribly misleading in stating that the “rank-and-file hailed” Haspel’s “ascension to the top of the agency. There are many current and former intelligence officers who were appalled at the selection of someone so actively involved in the sadistic torture and abuse program. These officers refer to Haspel as “Bloody Gina” for that reason.
In 2011, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D/CA) prevented then CIA director Leon Panetta from naming Haspel as the deputy director of operations, the number three position at the agency, because of her role in the torture program. In April 2018, more than 100 generals and admirals took the unusual step of circulating a statement opposing Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director because of her extensive role in CIA’s torture program.
The title of the Times’ article does provide one light moment, however. The headline for the article, “CIA Chief Uses Spy Skills to Connect with Trump,” is both counter-factual and counter-intuitive. We know from the past two years of the Trump administration that no one on the president’s staff, not even cabinet officers, has influence over Trump. There is one possible exception, however, for anyone completely loyal to Trump appears to have some influence. On the other hand, complete loyalty from a CIA director will not serve the national security interests of the United States.
I am envious of the ability of Barnes and Goldman to discuss aspects of Haspel’s role in the torture and abuse program because the CIA’s Publications Review Board redacted my discussion in a manuscript I submitted a year ago. Ironically, the CIA even redacted my citing of an article from the Times’ because the reviewers/censors determined the title of the article to be classified!